While driving from Reno to Palm Desert I listened to some CD’s presented by The Learning Company‘s Great Courses. If you have access to these, I strongly recommend them to you. The particular series I’m addressing is called The Art of Reading and is presented by Professor Timothy Spurgin of Lawrence University. The lectures are well-organized, clearly presented and as applicable to writers as to readers.
Today, I want to share an important point from the lecture on characters about developing round characters.
The concept of a round character, as opposed to a flat one, was presented by E. M. Forster in his book, Aspects of the Novel. Simply put, a round character is one who will capture the reader’s interest because of his unpredictability, his complexity and the changes he undergoes during the course of the story. And this is key: “The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way.” (Forster)
We’ve previously discussed the fact that, while your protagonist needs to draw the sympathy of the reader, he should have some character flaws. Inversely, your antagonist should have something that makes him, if not attractive, at least capable of being understood. Just like us–no one is all good or all bad.
As you write, reflect upon your own reaction to the key characters in your manuscript. Are you able to identify with them to some degree? Are there things that, if you were that person, you might be ashamed of or want to change? Are there events or reactions which are surprising without being totally out-of-character (unconvincing)? Is your character someone you would want to know, or avoid?
One thing I find helpful when writing fiction is to base my characters on a composite of people I know or with whom I have been acquainted. You can even take someone who is in the public eye. I try not to use one person because I would never want anyone to say to me, “That’s me, isn’t it?” My mother once thought a character was her because I set the scene in a room in her house!
I suggest referring back to a couple of posts I’ve written on character development using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Enneagram because these personality profile systems help you to identify how a character might react in a given situation as well as their strengths and weakness. This can suggest a source of surprise as well, since none of us is a perfect fit to any one personality type.
I plan on using the round/flat character definition to help in rewriting my second novel…a goal I’ve set for my visit here in the desert.
Happy writing–enjoy the process.